I listen to many a podcast. And I like to make lists. Especially year-in-review type lists. Also, it can be hard to find new podcasts to listen to sometimes, so maybe perhaps this list will help point you to something you end up digging. Idk. The day I need a valid excuse to write thousands of words about nonsense only I care about is the day I demand to be stricken from this earth.
Like with all good dumb lists, it's worth talking a bit about my methodology, as much as there is one. While my music list is far more based on critical opinion and analysis (as far as that goes) my podcast list is based mainly on tastes and habits. Since most of these shows are recurring in some way, and since I subscribe to more podcasts than could ever be listened to, I have lots of opportunities in my ~4-8 hours of podcast listening per day to choose one show over another. Sure, the ones on this list may be the genuine, semi-objective best for whatever reason or another, but they're here because time and again they were the shows I loved listening to, anticipated between episodes, and returned to. They're the keepers.
ALSO as a note, because there are ~30 or so shows listed here, I don't want to do the work to link to every show. But because they're podcasts, they're all at the very least on iTunes and any podcast app that uses the iTunes directory (basically all of them.) So just search for the name, you'll probably find them. That said idk about Stitcher or Google Play or Spotify, but I also don't super care about them. So. Sry about that.
So this year I broke my list in two, partially because I really like to make arbitrary and specific lists, and partially because this year seemed dominated by me trying out brand new shows. This may be because I'm getting old and want variety, it may be because some of my former favorite shows either ended or started to wane a bit, and it may be because gosh darnit there were SO MANY GOOD SHOWS THAT STARTED THIS YEAR. WHO KNOWS?!?!?!
Anyway, here is my list of the top ten podcasts I liked the most in 2016 that started in 2016.
...Although actually, first...
(in no particular order)
- Banging Book Club (20-something British youtubers read a book about sex every month and talk about it for ~1 hour.)
- Decoding Westworld (hosts of "A Cast Of Kings" bring their recap-podcast mastery to the HBO show Westworld.)
- Slate's Trumpcast (A near-daily audio diary, ~20 minutes long talking about the latest Trump shenanigans and interviewing interesting and relevant people.)
- Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People (Chris Gethard, host of my favorite tv show, sits down for an hour to have an anonymous conversation with a random caller.)
- Variable Bitrate (An hour-or-so long chat show about music mostly talking to various music journalists and other industry folks.)
Give 'em a try! They're great!
Now, the big guns. It's time for the...
Top Ten New Podcasts Of 2016
10) Waypoint Radio
One of the key categories of podcastery for me is the "let's sit down every week and talk about video games for thirty minutes to an hour" show. Seriously, there are several. This year though, one show rose to near the top of the pack, and that was the twice-weekly show coming out of the newest kid on the vidya james website block: Waypoint. Waypoint is a games site that really tackles all the stuff GamerGate hates, diving deep into the politics of games, critical theories, takes on the industry, personal narrative, and the perspectives of marginalized or underrepresented groups and their views and histories with games. In a word: it rules, man.
John Gruber, Apple blogger extraordinaire, likes to call his podcast The Talk Show "the director's commentary for [his site] Daring Fireball." I like to think of Waypoint Radio as director's commentary for Waypoint.zone (or bazinga.zone (or digitalpyramids.com (shoutout Chief Keef.))) The show started with Waypoint EIC Austin Walker chatting with Patrick "Scoops" Klepek, talking games, games discourse, and the creation of their new website. But the show quickly found its footing by adding in other Waypoint staffers, particularly the excellent Danielle Riendeau and Danika Harrod. If you like your games discussed in a way that's inclusive and treats games as a serious artistic and cultural force, you absolutely can't go wrong with Waypoint Radio.
9) Do By Friday
I feel super dumb for not listening to Merlin Mann before last year, because I've slowly realized that he's one of the clearest crystallizations of my ideal rhetorical style. Silly, leaning into weird pop culture references and inside jokes, always playing everything with an almost indescribable mix of hyperbolic energy and old-school radio chill, he (along with some other kids later on down this list) is what pops into my head when I think "podcast ideal."
So combine Merlin with gleefully surly Max Temkin and joy of joys Alex Cox of Cards Against Humanity, give them an hour to talk ostensibly about weird challenges they've set for each other (every week one host picks a thing the three have to Do By the next Friday) and instead catch them just talk about whatever they want and you've got a genuinely infectious and marvelous bit of audio. In my overall podcast listening I most strongly gravitate towards silly chat shows that are loosely themed at best, and man oh man Do By Friday is an excellent new addition to that crew.
8) Bad With Money
I didn't get the chance to meet Gaby Dunn at the XOXO conference in Portland this year (fun how literally everything I write here seems to cycle back to XOXO...) but I did get to later hear her speak and it was marvelous and opened my eyes both to her and her comedy partner Allison Raskin's sketch channel Just Between Us (which also has the distinction of perfectly mirroring my friendship with one of my besties from college, Analyssa (I'm the Allison)) AND her new and excellent podcast Bad With Money.
Dunn makes no secrets of the fact that she's, well, bad with money, and so she started this podcast to reflect on and chart her journey towards financial knowledge, as well as chat with some of her coolest internet creator friends and loved ones about their perspectives, history, and expertise with regards to money. Money is fucking weird and scary as hell y'all, and as a recently minted semi-functional adult this show has been necessary guidance and therapy.
7) Holy Swift
GUYS THIS IS A PODCAST ALL ABOUT TAYLOR SWIFT HOSTED BY THREE MARVELOUSLY FUNNY GALS OUT OF TEXAS. GO AHEAD. DESIGN A BETTER PODCAST, YA NERDS, I DARE YA.
6) My Favorite Murder
WELP NERDS, YA DID IT, YA DESIGNED AN EVEN BETTER ONE because turns out Karen Kilgariff (rad comedian) and Georgia Hardstark (rad comedian who also hosts one of my longtime favorite podcasts, Slumber Party) MANAGED TO DO EXACTLY THAT. This is a show hosted by this glorious and funny pair where they talk about their love of true crime (a love I've shared literally as long as I can remember.) Each week they bring a new horrific murder to the table to talk about it in an irreverent, but still thoughtful way.
Make no mistake, there's a ton of silly and off-color jokes, and definitely they don't follow any sense of decorum with regards to these terrible crimes. But to me there's value in that, not just because it takes some of the power out of the senseless horror by making it comedic (which it does well) or just provides a safe space where people don't feel ashamed of their semi-taboo fascinations (which it also does well) but they also provide a perspective missing from a lot of true crime stuff: they mourn the victim (albeit in a fun, silly, jazz-funeral kind of way), and they give no respect to the murderer. Unlike literally every other true crime thing you can find. It's not about how scary and powerful and weirdly worthy of deification the murderers are. It's about how weird and gross and worthy of shame and mockery they are. And that's rad.
(But y'all, this is still a show about the absolute worst murders that humanity has ever committed, so keep that in mind as you decide whether to plug in those earbuds.)
Oh, and plus they have the greatest tagline of any podcast, which is exactly the kind of advice we should all strive to embody: "Stay Sexy, and Don't Get Murdered."
5) Rose Buddies
The McElroys are the First Family of Podcasting, and so it's unsurprising that just about any McElroy brother show will end up in my list. And while it's dumb to play favorites with real humans, and all three brothers are great, that automatic list-inclusion tends to be especially likely if the McElroy in question is sweet baby brother (and 30-under-30 Media Luminary) Griffin.
So when he started a show with his wife where they recap The Bachelor, y'all of course I gave it a try... despite NOT WATCHING THE BACHELOR. And this podcast is THE BEST. So much the best that I then started watching the show it recaps, and in the process this podcast ended up opening my eyes to not one, not two, but three of my favorite new shows (Bachelor (specifically Bachelor In Paradise), MTV's Are You The One, and Netflix's Terrace House: Boys And Girls In The City.)
The sheer force of silly charisma from this fantastic married duo will make it such that you can love the podcast without watching a single minute of the shows it discusses. But if you do watch the shows it's all the better (and if you already watch the Bachelor Family of Products WHAT ARE YOU DOING LISTEN TO ROSE BUDDIES IMMEDIATELY.) And hey, a new Bachelor season just started, so it's a great time to become a Buddy!
4) Keepin' It 1600
There are many political podcasts that rose up in the waning days of the election, and many of them were very good. I ended up talking for an hour with my rad friend Rachel (in one of several attempts recording pilots for a podcast of our own! #StayTuned) about political podcasts, and we discovered that there were roughly three camps: the genuinely issue-and-policy focused shows like Pantsuit Politics or We The Ppl; the political press shows like NPR Elections, Slate Politics, or FiveThirtyEight Elections; and the straight up talk radio ragefests. Keepin' It 1600 is the liberal poster child of that side and goddamnit was it glorious. It got me through the last several months of the election, and even more so through the months since. And sure they do have some genuinely good insight and bring on interesting guests and give suggestions for ways to actively participate in our democracy. Whatever. Who cares. I'm not proud of it, but tbh I just need my righteous liberal rage y'all.
The reason why Rachel and I are friends is that we agree on many things, but balance a lot in terms of taste. We're both huge podcast fans, but she loves well-produced narrative audio, and I prefer loosely-to-not-at-all-produced 3-hour long chat shows. And we're both hyper-liberal, but she's about the issues and the policies and the real-world ramifications, and I'm about the spin and the story and political game. So Pantsuit Politics for Rachel, Keepin' It 1600 for me. And I'm alright with that.
3) CoolGames Inc.
I deliberated for a long time the ordering of these top three, because when it comes down to it they're all my favorite new shows of 2016. But it's for slightly different reasons. I'll talk more about why I love the other ones, but I'll go ahead and say now that CoolGames Inc was the single hour of content I most looked forward to every week. Period. And not just among podcasts; if I saw that a new ep of CoolGames Inc came out at the same time a new Westworld was out, take a fucking hike Anthony Hopkins y'all gotta wait in line after some good good goofs from these good good boys.
CoolGames Inc is hosted by the above-mentioned Griffin McElroy and Nick Robinson, Griffin's coworker from the video game site Polygon (and personal favorite of mine from the old Rev3Games days.) And the premise is simple, if odd: every week they take suggestions from the internet on titles or ideas for silly silly, stupid, dumb, bad video games. And then they talk through them, and come up with what that game would be like. And sometimes they have a guest on from the world of games or games journalism and pitch their silly silly ideas to them.
Hands down, this is the funniest thing. Seriously. There are about 5 or so shows that I think twice about listening to in public because of how often I laugh very uncomfortably loudly at what's happening in my earbuds, and CoolGames Inc leads the pack. It's just... Nick and Griffin have such a wonderful chemistry and amazing comedic timing, and combine that with an esoteric knowledge of weird pop culture and video games, and the straight-up strangest and wackiest shit the internet can come up with, and you get A+ GOTY material like "Hugh Jackman's Huge Actin'," "50 First States" (a dating sim where you date personifications of all the US states,) "Explain Tumblr To Your Dad Simulator" (whereby Nick did actually call his real-life dad!) and "Tim McGraw's: What If? Fates: Trucks."
2) Still Buffering
Like with all of the top three, I really really really really really really like this podcast. But I'm highlighting it for one reason: it showed me something new.
The show features Rileigh Smirl and Sydnee McElroy (née Smirl,) two sisters who are ~10-13 years apart (I forget the exact difference) talking about what teenagerdom (specifically female teenagerdom) is like in their respective generations. And it's adorable, hilarious, awkward, loving, and rad. Then the show managed to get even better by including Teylor, the middle sister of the Smirl trio. When the show is talking about the stated purpose (teens then and now!) she is the wildcard, sometimes siding with Syd, sometimes with Rilo, and sometimes off in her own perspective. When the show is just three sisters goofing and being excellent, she rounds everything out with her own personal take on life and it's wackiness.
Sydnee happens to be married to Justin McElroy of the podcast My Brother, My Brother, and Me (and assorted other McElroy and Polygon projects; this ain't the last time they're coming up) and in many ways Still Buffering could be seen as a "My Sister, My Sister, and Me." But it has very excellently carved it's own niche and provided it's own value in the wide world of podcasting. If you are or were a teen girl, I'd have to imagine you'd appreciate this show, and I say that given how much I've absolutely fallen in love with it as someone who is neither teen nor girl. And it's just further proof y'all that the podcast game needs to be more than white dudes making jokes or talking about video games. I listen to a ton of those shows, mind you, but there's room for more, and when it shows up it's frequently excellent.
1) Election Profit Makers
So while CoolGames Inc was my most anticipated every week and probably technical favorite, and Still Buffering offered something new from a voice underrepresented in "mainstream" (as much as that word makes sense within a niche medium) podcasting, Election Profit Makers is my podcast of 2016 because it was a podcast of 2016. I'll explain.
This show features David Rees (writer of Get Your War On, host of tv's Going Deep, artisanal pencil sharpener) and his childhood best friend Jon Kimball (professional domain name flipper) going hard into the world of: political prediction markets. That's right, these guys started a podcast all about betting on politics.
First, this show is just great. I found out about it on a recommendation from the aforementioned Merlin Mann, and it's got all of those things I talked about with Do By Friday and Mann's general style. It's silly as hell. It knowingly and winkingly takes itself a bit too seriously. It's full of pop culture references and inside jokes. And like most of my favorite shows (such as Mann's Roderick On The Line, another Mann show later on the list, or the above Rose Buddies) it's got a great straight-man/wild-man dynamic. It's just good good comedy podcasting at its core. That alone would throw it into the top five at least.
But this show did two things that will forever link it with 2016 in my mind: first, it talked about politics (which was the story of 2016) and it managed to talk about our crazy-ass political world in the single most crazy way possible. This was a political podcast whose in was betting on a weird prediction market website, and for a show about political betting it took frequent detours into such topics as which listeners were banned from listening and what the latest news was on David and Jon's secret terrible high school band (as opposed to their non-secret terrible high school band.) That kind of legitimate insanity was the only kind of thing that made sense backdropped against the insanity of actual real life.
Second, this was a limited series. From the outset they always said they would only do the show for the 16 weeks leading up to the election and for one wrap-up show after election night. And they stuck to it. This is a 17 episode show. And so you end up with a perfect time capsule of the ups, and the eventual huge huge downs of this year. If I ever listen back to it (or if y'all decide to give it a try) it's short enough that I could reasonably listen quickly and genuinely relive what this wild-as-hell time was like in all its bonkers reality. And whether or not I actual ever do that though, this show is inextricably linked for me with the overall story of the election. It's as much a part of it as any President-Elect Von Clownstick bullshittery. But like, it's funny.
Of course, it wasn't just new shows I tried out this year. There were still some old favorites that I loved.
For some of these shows they're here because they particularly shone in 2016. Maybe they came into their own, or they tried out a new thing, or tackled a great topic.
And some are just on here because they're my favorites period. Again, this list is based mostly on "which shows were the ones that when they popped into my feed I felt happy and excited?" So a few of these shows may not have a particular hook into 2k16 like the others, but dangit I just loved listening to them.
Like above, we've got honorable mentions first, but unlike above, since there were more oldies I listened to than newbies, I'm giving ten honorable mentions. All are rad. Give 'em a listen if ya want.
(in no particular order)
- Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend
- Buzzfeed's Internet Explorer (note: this would be top ten if it hadn't been hiatused for the most key internet garbage months of 2k16)
- Mental Illness Happy Hour
- Kinda Neat
- Shall We Play A Game?
- The Besties (note: yep, I'm including a podcast that released one episode this year. It was a glorious 3-hour monstrosity that I've listened to twice already.)
Alright, here it is, the top ten of the oldies. Let's get the heck into it.
10) Friends At The Table
I've loved the idea of roleplaying podcasts ever since the podcast Harmontown started doing a regular D&D segment years ago (which eventually spun off into the rad Seeso show Harmonquest.) Intimate, long-form, on-demand audio like podcasting is already well suited to narrative, and a narrative like a roleplaying game that is based on people talking about what they're doing is even better.
Friends At The Table is a show I only learned about relatively recently, to my shame. And gosh darnit is it good as hell y'all. It's GM-ed by Austin Walker (yes, the same Austin Walker of Waypoint Radio above!) and, as he reminds us every week, it's an "Actual Play podcast focused on critical worldbuilding, smart characterizations, and fun interactions between good friends."
And let me tell ya it delivers on all of those. I started listening with the recent "Marielda" arc and the first two episodes, where they played a game that had them literally building the history of this fantasy town, hooked me so much that I did not sleep that night, I had to keep listening to episode after episode. They built such an incredibly rich world, had a blast doing it and being fun with each other, and dangit built incredible characters as good as you'd find in any written piece (Heddy the Weaver and Aubrey the Cobbin will forever be burned in my psyche.)
Unfortunately, not having listened to the show from the beginning, when they returned after the Marielda arc to the story they were telling from season one, I found it harder to keep as engaged. What I need to do is go back and listen to old episodes and let them hook me the way the Marielda eps did, which maybe I'll do next time I take a vacation: just lock my doors, close my blinds, make hot toddys, and have it be a FatT extravaganza. There are worse ways to spend your time.
I've described this show in the past as sort of a companion show to another podcast on this list, but that doesn't do it justice. Yes Rocket is a tech show that takes the similar format of "three dudes get on Skype and talk about tech for an hour" and instead of dudes has gals. But that ain't it by a mile.
Rocket is not just a new perspective on the tech industry and tech news because its hosts are female (though that is certainly part of it.) It's a new perspective on the tech industry and tech news because Christina Warren (Senior Writer at Gizmodo,) Brianna Wu (co-founder of Giant SpaceKat and future congresswoman we hope!) and Simone DeRochefort (Video Producer at Polygon) are fucking brilliant people with really good new perspectives of their own. Not only do they cover stories that get overlooked by other shows and outlets (whether serious like Oculus' troubling habit of not hiring women, or extremely super serious like which Pokéman you'd bang,) but also when they tackle the stories everyone else is doing, they do it in a way that provides new insight you won't find anywhere else.
If you care about tech and listen to podcasts, Rocket absolutely needs to be in your must-listen list.
8) Don't Get Me Started
This is one of my go-to podcast pitches for anyone wanting to start listening to podcasts for the first time, or who already loves a few shows and wants to try something new. And a big part of why is because it has such a simple and exciting premise: comedians Will Hines and Anthony King talk to all of their awesome, funny, smart, and talented creative friends, but not about what they do.... they only talk about what they love.
Every week a new guest comes on to talk about an obsession of theirs, whether it's the music of Kanye West, dancing in clubs, the Eurovision Song Contest, Southern Gothic Fiction, the city of Pittsburgh, Dogs of Instagram, Robert Kennedy, Shoplifting, or "Bands That Do Their Job" (listen to find out what that means.) King and Hines figured out something universal: it's really fun to listen to people gush over something they love deeply, and even more fun if they're funny and smart performers.
Because this is my go-to suggestion, I'll leave you with the other half of my go-to pitch: go through the episode list and find either a comedian you like or a topic you're interested in, and just listen. Then keeping doing that. Then start listening to new episodes. And chances are you, like me (and my friend Claudia, who was the first person I got hooked on this show!) will fall in love with it.
7) Accidental Tech Podcast
Okay this is the show that I and others have used in the "Rocket is the female version of X" sentence. And while that's a gross and reductive thing to say, part of it comes from the fact that the Accidental Tech Podcast is, for a certain segment of folks, just about the platonic ideal of a tech show. Three guys with a lot of opinions talk for several hours a week about tech (particularly Apple.) And since they're programmers, sometimes they get in the fucking WEEDS. And you know what? Even when they do it's engaging and great. Many great shows, if you're into chat-style shows, perfectly mimic that feeling of listening in on the kinds of conversations you and your friends have. I've had many a nerd argument about Apple that sound like a much dumber version of what you'd hear on ATP. That kind of organic vibe and intimacy is what makes so many of the shows on this list click for me, and ATP is an absolute perfect prime example of this.
6) Reconcilable Differences
Reconcilable Differences is literally unpitchable. Like, there is no real throughline to the types of topics they cover. Sometimes it's Free Will, sometimes it's Walking Dead spoilers and an obscure 90s anime series that only one of the hosts actually got around to watching, and sometimes it's about how best to organize the Google Doc they use to plan the show. The shows range from an hour to 3+ purely based on how long the hosts go for. There are no guests. They don't touch on current events. It can be funny at times, but it's by no means a comedy show; and it can be deep at times, but it frequently dives into the silly and esoteric.
Put simply, it should be a terrible, terrible show.
And it's consistently one of my favorites, and that entirely comes down to the hosts. Merlin Mann (mentioned for the third time!) and John Siracusa (of ATP above) are just incredible podcasts hosts and incredible minds. The way they talk about things hooks you. At the very worst it entertains you for however long the show goes, and at best it breaks your brain in ways that stick with you for months to come. RecDiffs doesn't always pop to the top of my queue (partially because when a 3 hour episode comes along I know I need to block my gosh-darn schedule) but whenever I do listen I know I'm gonna be in for a great time. And in many ways this is what podcasting can uniquely do. Only in a medium with such a low barrier to entry and such a high reward for cultivating a dedicated (if small) listener base can a show like this that can't be pitched but is beloved by those who find it thrive. It's beautiful.
5) We Have Concerns
I've loved We Have Concerns since it launched in summer 2014, and it continues to rock. This is another show I pitch because unlike most of the ones on this list, it's short. Where almost every other show is an hour+, We Have Concerns is deliberately designed to be between 10-25 minutes. It comes in hot, y'all.
The show has Anthony Carboni and Jeff Cannata talking through one story that lives roughly in the world of science and often leads to at least some deep existential panic, and they then fill the discussion out with silly improv skits. It's the first show I listen to in the mornings on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and it's the perfect informative, entertaining, and often deeply unsettling bite-sized chunk to start the day.
I got into this podcast, produced by Seattle's alt-weekly newspaper The Stranger, summer of 2015. It's worth noting at that time I was working and going to school in California. Now I live in Chicago. I have never once listened to this hyper-local show while I actually lived in Seattle. But it's great nonetheless. Part of it is homesickness, sure, but part of it is that the stuff they talk about, even if it's coming from a crazily focused local perspective, has universality. The chats about particular policy issues or interviews with local figures may not have resonance to my own day to day, but thinking about the issues presented and getting the perspectives of the hosts and guests pushes my own thought processes in ways that wouldn't happen if I didn't listen to this show every week. And again, homesickness.
However, the reason this show bumped up to top five this year was because of its election coverage. In the latter half of '16, the show landed on a defacto panel of host Eli Sanders, Stranger theater critic Rich Smith, and sex columnist Dan Savage. And much like the folks on Keepin' It 1600, this trio was who I thought about when each new bananas thing happened during the election cycle. And after the election results, again like the 1600 crew, they helped keep me at least floating at the surface of the darkness, rather than drowning in it. Look, sometimes there's something great about listening to three hyper-progressives from the hyper-progressive city of Seattle argue bitterly about whether one or the other of them are being hyper-progressive enough. I gotta get at least one source of joy in this nightmare hellscape.
Our world is wack as hell. Some of my best friends in the world right now are people I met because I happened to watch a YouTube video about how to vlog, started vlogging, sent in a video to a competition at a Harry Potter convention, got selected as a semifinalist, then got to the go to the convention because of an error in the voting, met and briefly hung out with the other semifinalists, then became real friends with them on Twitter. That's a frankly stupid chain of events and its terrifying to think about how if literally one thing had gone differently I'd never know or never be close with some people who mean the world to me now.
[BRACKET!] is the podcast equivalent of that. I was part of a thing called "The Listserve" (itself a thing I only discovered because I happened to take a class where every day someone happened to have to present an internet thing they dug, and someone happened to present The Listserve on one of those days.) The Listserve is a social experiment started at MIT where you subscribe to a mailing list, and every day one subscriber gets the chance to send an email to the whole list. At the time I subscribed there were ~20,000 subscribers.
And one day I got the notification that I won! And I happened (after much re-drafting) to settle on, surprise surprise, writing a list of podcasts I like. And I asked folks to email me with shows they like.
I got a ton of submissions. One of them was from a person named Greg. Who said "well, I can't not mention that I produce and host a podcast, and it's called [BRACKET!]"
I checked it out, along with many of the shows people sent in, and I fell in love. It's a simple show: Four friends and a guest make a sweet sixteen bracket on a theme (like "Best Cookie," "Best Marvel Villain, "Best Casual Dining Establishment," "Best Place To Get Into A Fight," or "Best Weird Relative At A Family Gathering.") And then they go through the bracket. And they pick a winner.
And it's fucking great y'all. I started listening around episode 8 or so, and now we're well over 100, and it's been one of my absolute favorites ever since. Because, as has become a theme in this list, I love listening to people mix serious with silly. In the case of your My Favorite Murder it's talking about something serious in a silly way, but here it's talking about silly match-ups and rankings and sometimes fucking SCREAMING about which is in fact the "Best Song Of 1996" (a rare episode where they Brack Pack actually got it right.) It's all done with lots of pop culture references and inside jokes. And again, it sounds like what me and my friends do when we try to arbitrarily rate things, just funnier. It's a blast and a half.
2) My Brother, My Brother, And Me
This is probably my favorite podcast. Listen to it. It's the best. That's about all I really feel like saying about this perfect perfect show.
1) The Adventure Zone
...BECAUSE my number one show has the exact same hosts as MBMBaM above. Yep. The Adventure Zone is a Dungeons & Dragons podcast with the three brothers from MBMBaM and their Dad Clint, and they go on a great fantasy roleplaying adventure as a FAMILY. And as much as I absolutely adore FatT and other shows with their dedication to presenting the game in the way it actually is played and, well, for lack of a better word "actually taking it seriously," at the end of the day I'm listening to a podcast. And most of my podcasts are entertaining, and most of my podcasts are funny.
And holy shit guys is The Adventure Zone funny.
Like I mentioned earlier, I first got into the idea of D&D or role-playing podcasts when the show Harmontown had a recurring D&D segment. But here's the secret: it didn't just get me intrigued in D&D as an option for audio entertainment, but as like a thing I'd ever be interested in period. Because what the folks on Harmontown did was show that the rules are only there to help the players. They took the broader philosophical idea that "systems are only valuable insofar as they benefit people, but systems can never be more valuable than the people" and applied it to the world of RPGs. There, a wizard named Sharpie Buttsalot can try whatever he wants, and the rules are only there to figure out if he succeeds and what happens next, not to reign him in.
The Adventure Zone is clearly cut from this mold, with the brothers deliberately simplifying the already simplified 5th Edition ruleset to a core that allows them to prioritize telling an entertaining story and being as funny as they possibly can. One of the three main characters is a wizard named Taako for gosh sakes. Which yes, is pronounced like the mexican food staple. And guess what, he's the fucking best.
But The Adventure Zone goes one step further in it's flexibility with regards to D&D's ruleset: it showed me that literally any world is possible within this framework of simple rules. Yes, D&D is clearly meant for a Tolkien-esque fantasy world, and it works, well, fantastically within that. But Griffin as Dungeon Master has done genuinely incredible things in the campaigns he creates. He explicitly takes the pop culture he loves and wacky ideas he has and forms them into stories that I would never imagine possible in the world of D&D. But they fit, dangit. The first big example, a few years back, was when the second chunk of the show ended up being an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery on a train. Who knew you could do that in D&D?!?!?! Not this kid!!!! It was followed up by a Mad-Max-inspired wagon race in the desert. Then an Alien-inspired exploration of a science lab being overrun by a plague, where they were chased by a giant rock monster and aided by a friendly robot.
All of this is possible in D&D, but it takes someone like Griffen who's willing to play with the mold to make it happen.
...Now okay, all that stuff is rad with regards to the show in general. But here's the real reason why this show is my number one right now: because in this year, it told my single favorite story in any medium. Period. Fuck off movies, books, tv. In 2k16, The Adventure Zone got ya beat.
The show is broken into "arcs" that are 5 to 15 episodes long, each of which are based around a mini-quest (specifically trying to recover a dangerous magical item called a "Grand Relic") in service of the overall quest (finding and destroying all six Grand Relics.) And every arc has been more complex, ambitious, and entertaining than the last one. The train mystery mentioned above was one arc, the Mad Max desert race another, the sci-fi lab another, and so on.
This year featured an arc known as "The Eleventh Hour." In it the boys entered a town that was encased in a magical bubble, and were involved in a race against the clock to try and save the town and its inhabitants. But all is not as it seems. And that's all I'll say because you should listen for yourself. Seriously. If you don't want to start from the beginning, you can just start with the first episode of "The Eleventh Hour" and fucking treat yourself.
The whole "Eleventh Hour" story, with its incredible characters (from both the main players and the NPCs,) intricate mystery, crazy central gimmick, tense moral choices, heartbreaking (in both good and bad ways) ending, and gosh-darn fun was literally everything I want in a longform narrative. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I have a feeling I'm going to be relistening to the 9 episodes of "The Eleventh Hour" pretty consistently for the rest of my life. Just like Election Profit Makers, The Adventure Zone managed to be a show that was not only incredibly good, but made a mark on my year. And for that reason it's my number one returning show.
There it is. Thousands of words on 35+ awesome podcasts. Plug in your headphones and give 'em a listen (and/or tweet me @AndrewTheWhip if you've got casts of 2016 that you dug that I missed. Fair warning: if it's an NPR-y type show, I probably won't like it. But like let me know anyway.)